Gamblers & Gambling
Henry Ward Beecher

I downloaded this from Amazon onto Mrs UK's kindle gadget - it was offered as a freebie, and I thought it'd make for some interesting reading from the past. It's one of over 50,000 titles that are available care of Project Gutenberg, a volunteer led project where one aspect of their work is "digitising" older out-of-print texts and making them available free of charge. A fab resource I think.

This title is a transcript of the fifth of a series of lectures entitled Seven Lectures to Young Men given during the winter of 1843/1844 in Indianapolis, USA, by Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), a protestant cleric. The version I downloaded was re-published nine years after his death by the Henry Altemus publishing company of Philadelphia.

So, what's this one all about? It's really a short "fire and brimstone" type piece along the lines of gambling being the root of much evil, and highlights the personal and social fallout that results from gambling, how impressionable and innocent young men can be drawn into it and become ruined both morally and financially, having possibly started out playing for recreational purposes only; how a modest flutter can be the thin end of the wedge. In short, how good people can be turned and surrender their souls to the devil through the medium of gambling. Needless to say, it's written in the language and style of the middle classes of the mid eighteen-hundreds, although I found it surprisingly easy to digest.

Along with this line of arguement, judges, lawyers and politicians come in for stark criticism, as a result of the hypocrisy of some who speak out against gambling, or judge or defend gamblers who find themselves in court, during the working day and then partake once the sun goes down. No change to nowdays really, where national governments are quick to bang on around the need to do more to protect the vulnerable, and for licensed operators to act in a responsible manner, whilst at the same time counting the revenues returned through duties and taxation being levied on gambling activities.

Whilst on the subject of hypocrisy, taking a quick look at the life of Reverend Beecher it seems that he wasn't exactly squeeky clean himself. Throughout his life he carried a reputation for overlooking one of the ten commandments and conducting bible instruction with some of the female members of his flock horizontally. On more than one occasion allegations of extra-marital affairs made it into print. The most reknown scandal was in 1872, where a lady named Victoria Woodhull, a womens' rights activist, published "The Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case" accusing Beecher of preaching one thing and practising another; this after she had been reliably informed of an affair between Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, his long serving assistant's wife, who had admitted it to her husband two years earlier. Beecher came out of this affair with his reputation mostly intact (largely as he was found not guilty after being tried on formal criminal charges of "criminal intimacy", instigated by Elizabeth Tilton's husband - the jury were unable to reach a verdict), and he continued touring and lecturing up until his death in 1887. A commemorative statue of him is located in Brooklyn, New York city, where he was laid to rest.

An interesting trip back a hundred and seventy odd years, with the moral arguements being just as relevent today as they were then. You can obtain a copy of Gamblers & Gambling directly from Project Gutenberg, and also via a free download from Amazon if you have a Kindle account.

December 2015.